All's fair in "All's Well that Ends Well"

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“All’s Well that Ends Well” is not counted among William Shakespeare’s popular plays, but this summer’s Winters Theatre Company production might make you wonder why. Even though it is one of the Bard’s so-called “problem plays”, it is entertaining, funny, a bit subversive and, like Shakespeare’s better known classics, it provokes ethical questions that people still face to this day. For anyone who worries that they might not be able to follow the Shakespearean dialogue, Germaine Hupe opens the play by addressing their fears. Hupe, the consummate educator and performer, gives a brief synopsis of the play with a few witticisms thrown in for good measure. “They’ve got the hook back there if I talk too much,” Hupe told the audience, getting a good laugh. The Winters Theatre Company (WTC) would be hard pressed to find someone with as much knowledge about Shakespeare, history, and theater as Hupe, so any threat to cut her time short must be a hollow one. Hupe gave the audience a brief run down of the plot, and introduced the play’s main characters. Helena is the virtuous but low born woman and Bertram is the courtly and self-centered man that she loves. Helena, played by Heidi Masem, is the orphaned daughter of a famous physician. When the King of France is incapacitated by a mysterious and seemingly incurable illness, Helena offers to treat him with the skills she learned from her father. If she fails to save the king, her punishment is death. If she succeeds, she asks that she be allowed to marry whichever single man she chooses. The man she has her sights on is Bertram, played by Manny Lanzaro. Bertram has just left his home to join the King’s army, and is ready to live the life of a free and single young man. Unfortunately for him, Helena cures the king, and Bertram is now forced into marriage with a woman he believes is far below his stature. When the King of France, played by the ever regal Trent Beeby, reminds Bertram that refusing to marry Helena means betraying his king, Bertram digs in his heels. “I do not love her now, nor will I refuse to strive to do it later,” Bertram says to Helena’s face, and the audienced “oooh”-ed as if they were watching a vicious argument on “The Bachelor”, and not a play that is over 400 years old. “Bertram leaves and does not consummate the marriage, the jerk,” Hupe explained to the audience in her introduction. Now the play becomes a kind of twisted fairytale. Before fleeing his marriage to fight in a war, Bertram gives Helena two impossible tasks to complete before he will accept her as his wife. Little does he know that in a fairy tale, giving a clever, virtuous heroine an impossible challenge practically guarantees her success. What follows is a series of tricks, schemes and double crosses. Cameron Toney plays Diana, a quick-witted and virginal woman being courted by the immoral Bertram. Ellie Yeatman plays Diana’s scene-stealing mother, and is almost unrecognizable in a matronly lace kerchief tied over a wig of white hair. Director Laure Olson made sure to pack the play with a lot of laughs. She not only called upon her 20 years of experience with Shakespeare’s plays, she looked to her time working with a comedy troupe to find little moments for physical comedy. “Like a lot of people I thought Shakespeare was too high brow, but it’s not,” Olson says, “It’s fun. I was determined to make it fun.” With the actors she got, Olson succeeded. Phil Ryder, who has also worked as a director and educator, plays the fool Parolles with an off kilter swagger and infectious good humor. Cody Svozil and Valentin Molina, who play Bertram’s companions, have rarely played comedic roles, but might find themselves type cast after their antics in this production. There are several familiar faces onstage, like Anita Ahuja as Bertram’s exasperated mother, and Hupe as the sharp-tongued Lafew, as well as some newer actors. David Denebeim plays the Duke of Florence, and Josh Masem, Ana Garcia and Kendall Rawlinson play the pages and messengers that have to run interference between their employers. The play is filled with characters who use dirty tricks for morally acceptable reasons. With multiple schemes formulated over the course of the play, there is a question if all is really well if it ends well. At the beginning of the show Hupe told the audience to decide if the ends really do justify the means. As the night went on and the actors were joined by a chorus of crickets and frogs, the audience had time to ponder if all really is fair in love and war. The last two performances of “All’s Well that Ends Well” will take place on Friday, Aug. 10 and Saturday, Aug. 11 at 8 p.m. at the pavillion behind the Winters Community Center. For more information about the show or the Winters Theatre Company, email winterstheatre@gmail.com, or cal 530-795-4014.]]>

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